Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Having now scrutinized the book The Jesus Family Tomb book which accompanies the show there are further things that need to be stressed that are wrong with this whole theory and its varied speculations. I will list them seriatim as bullet points.

1) There is a major problem with the analysis of the names on these ossuaries. By this I mean one has to explain why one is in Hebrew, several are in Aramaic, but the supposed Mary Magdalene ossuary is in Greek. This suggests a multi-generation tomb, not a single generation tomb, and indeed a tomb that comes from after A.D. 70 after the Romans had destroyed the temple mount and Jewish Christians fled the city. This tomb is not in old Jerusalem. It is nowhere near the Temple mount, and we already know that the tomb of James was near the Temple Mount. The earliest Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, including the members of Jesus’ family and Mary Magdalene, did not speak Greek. They spoke Aramaic. We have absolutely no historical evidence to suggest Mary Magdalene would have been called by a Greek name before A.D. 70. She grew up in a Jewish fishing village called Migdal, not a Greek city at all. It makes no sense that her ossuary would have a Greek inscription and that of her alleged husband an Aramaic inscription.

2) The argument that the ‘Matthew’ ossuary still works with the theory this is a clan tomb because Mary had ancestors named Matthew does not work. We would need more distant descendants named Matthew, or immediate offspring named Matthew, neither of which we have. Ancestors are irrelevant, and in any case it is disputed whether the genealogy in Luke 3 is Mary's rather than Joseph's. None of the brothers of Jesus as listed in the NT are named Matthew.

3) Mary Magdalene is called ‘Maria’ constantly in first century Christian literature, and indeed well into the second century as well. She is never called Mariamene or the like. It is anachronistic and inappropriate to bring in later Gnostic document evidence from the Acts of Philip or the Gospel of Mary, neither of which date before the end of the second century A.D. to make your case when you have perfectly good first century data to help you. In fact, in regard to the former manuscript what we have is a 14th century manuscript which is theorized to go back to the fourth century A.D. It does not identify Mariamene as Mary Magdalene, rather it identifies her as the sister of Philip the apostle. It is the unproven theory of Francis Bovon, without real supporting evidence that Mariamene refers to Mary Magdalene. There are two problems with this: 1) we have both Mary Magdalene, and Philip in the NT, and the two are never connected at all. Indeed they are from different cities it seems clear. In terms of historical methodology you cannot use later Gnostic documents filled with wild fictional accounts, indeed fairy tales, about talking animals (yes we have that in the Acts of Philip) and like and be taken seriously when you want to make historical claims on the basis of such later and non-historically oriented evidence; 2) the accounts in the Acts of Philip have Maramene evangelizing foreign countries, yet on the argument of the film producers of this Discovery Channel special, she stayed in Jerusalem and was buried there with Jesus. In other words, we have no good historical connection between the sister of Philip, and Mary Magdalene. None.

4) Jesus is never called ‘son of Joseph’ by anyone who knew him intimately in the NT--- not by his family members, and not by his disciples. Indeed where this idea arises, for example, in John 6.42 the Jewish officials who are accosting Jesus call him ‘son of Joseph’ (cf. Jn. 8.41). These can only be called hostile witnesses, not those who were likely to have known the actual case. It is telling that in Nazareth itself, in our account in Mk. 6.1-6 in our earliest Gospel Jesus is called “the carpenter, the son of Mary”. Now in that patriarchal culture you don’t call a person a ‘son of their mother’ even if the father has died. That is a pejorative way of addressing a person, rather like calling them an S.O. you know what today. Did the people in Nazareth know there was something unusual about Jesus’ origins, and it disconnected him from Joseph? Yes they did, which is why they were angry and did not think Jesus had any right to teach them. He was probably viewed as a mamzer, as Dr. Bruce Chilton has argued—an illegitimate child. And this is precisely what James Tabor argues in his Jesus Dynasty book, claiming he was the son of a Roman soldier named Pantera. But of course now, he has reversed himself to support the Jesus Family Tomb theory. You can’t have it both ways, and in fact neither are correct. Jesus was not the physical descendent of Joseph, was known not to be by his hometown folks. The uncharitable suggested he was illegitimate but Mary claimed his conception was a miracle. Those are the two opposing explanations we have from the first century about Jesus’ origins. What we do not have is a tradition that Jesus would have been called ‘son of Joseph’ by members of his own family or his disciples—and that is what is required if the Talpiot tomb is a family tomb.

5) The second word on the Mariamene ossuary is Mara which is short for Martha another female name. It is not a reference to her being a master or teacher. You need to remember that the inscriptions on these ossuaries are very different in character to the one on the James ossuary. The latter has an honorific or monumental inscription on the side of the ossuary in a clear steady hand. The former all have what I call toe tag inscriptions scrawled hastily on the boxes as they are interred in order to distinguish the ossuaries. All that was required then was names, just names. No honorific additions like we find on monumental inscriptions would be used. So either we have two women in this ossuary, perhaps sisters, or we have one woman neither of which names match up with the first century naming of Mary Magdalene.

6) There is an interesting rosette or symbol over the Talpiot tomb, and from the pictures in the book inside the tomb as well. This is very interesting and it tells us one thing. This was a highly unusual and ornamental tomb meant to be recognized by the symbol. It is not, and indeed was not a secret tomb where a despised split off sect of Jesus following Jews could have hidden the bodies of Jesus or James or other family members. The ornamental decoration is meant to attract attention and draw people to the tomb. Indeed it is meant to distinguish the tomb from others. This is the opposite of what we would expect if this is a pre-70 A.D. Jesus family tomb. Remember we have clear historical evidence that Saul of Tarsus, from his own letters and from Acts was a persecutor of Christians. By the 40s this persecution got so bad that some Christians fled the city (see the sweep and trajectory of the story in Act 3-9). Under no circumstances would these beleaguered early Jewish Christians have been advertising where the bones of Jesus laid, if they knew.

7) No explanation is given as to why we have a monumental or honorific inscription on the James ossuary, but not on these other ones. My view would be that this makes clear that the James ossuary was not originally in the Talpiot tomb, indeed not likely there at any point.

8) Much is made of the fact that the chemical analysis of the patina on the James ossuary and some of the ossuaries in the Talpiot tomb match up. This is not actually surprising at all since you can find terra rosa in various locales in and around Jerusalem. This analysis cannot prove that these ossuaries all came from the same place or were interred in the same spot. Terra rosa is not a soil specific to the Talpiot region! And why is nothing at all mentioned about the very different sort of soil found within the James ossuary and not in these others--- namely soil from Silwan, which is where the James ossuary likely came out of the earth. Silwan is indeed within sight of the temple mount. Talpiot is not. It is miles away.

It is incumbant on any historian who wants to dispute a theory about the Jesus tomb to provide some other explanation for the Talpiot tomb. Clearly it is an important tomb, and it may be a Christian one. It would be interesting to know about the Greek inscriptions on the ossuaries or at least in the adjacent tomb which are pictured in the book The Jesus Family Tomb. Since they are in Greek it suggests to me they are not from early Aramaic speaking followers of Jesus, but they could be from later Christian ones, after the profile of who was Christian had broadened considerably with many Gentile Godfearers as converts even within Israel. It is therefore my tentative suggestion that the Talpiot tomb may well be an early Jewish tomb not connected with the followers of Jesus, but it could also be an early Christian tomb from a generation subsequent to the time of Jesus. And what we know about those Christians is that they related to each other as family, even when they were not physically related, and were in some cases buried together, not in clan tombs, because their religious families were more important to them than their physical ones. This tomb may reflect that later Christian practice and reality. It would be nice if the other ossuaries from the Talpiot tomb could be DNA tested so we could find out if any of the folks in this tomb were related. We do not know. But it would not surprise me if none of them were. The practice of osslegium, or burial in ossuaries, continued on after A.D. 70 until the Bar Kokhba revolt at least. There is no reason why this Talpiot tomb might not reflect the period between A.D. 70 and 125 or so.


Here is some additional data from Richard Bauckham on the names on the so-called 'Mary Magdalene' ossuary. He is more of an expert in early Jewish names than I am.

"The form of the name on the ossuary in question is Mariamenou. This is a Greek genitive case, used to indicate that the ossuary belongs to Mary (it means 'Mary's' or 'belonging to Mary'). The nominative would be Mariamenon. Mariamenon is a diminutive form, used as a form of endearment. The neuter gender is normal in diminutives used for women.

This diminutive, Mariamenon, would seem to have been formed from the name Mariamene, a name which is attested twice elsewhere (in the Babatha archive and in the Jewish catacombs at Beth She’arim). It is an unusual variant of Mariame. In the Babatha document it is spelt with a long e in the penultimate syllable, but in the Bet She’arim inscription the penultimate syllable has a short e. This latter form could readily be contracted to the form Mariamne, which is found, uniquely, in the Acts of Philip.

So we have, on the one hand, a woman known by the diminutive Mariamenon, in the ossuary, and, on the other hand, Mary Magdalen, who is always called in the Greek of the New Testament Maria but seems to be called in a much later source Mariamne. Going by the names alone they could be the same woman, but the argument for this is tenuous.

A final point about the Mariamenou inscription. The inscription also has a second name Mara. When Rahmani published this inscription in his catalogue of ossuaries he conjectured that the Greek particle ‘e’ (meaning ‘or’) should be supplied between the two names, making them alternative names for the same woman. The ‘e’ is not actually in the inscription, nor is there space for it between the two names. It is better to suppose that the bones of two women (or perhaps a woman and her child, the diminutive Mariamenon being used for the latter) were placed in the same ossuary (this would not be not unusual). The name Mara is known to have been used as an abbreviation of the name Martha. The programme makers take it to be the Aramaic word for ‘master,’ but this is implausible in the context. Beside the name Mariamenou on an ossuary, one would expect Mara to be a name, and since it is attested as a name this is the obviously correct reading."

I concur with this conclusion having now looked closely at the inscription on this particular ossuary. There is no word 'or' in the inscription, in fact there is a slash line separating the first name from the name Mara indicating we are most likely dealing with two different people. Prof. Bauckham has suggested to me that since these are all attested and some are very common Jewish names, that it is more probable this is a Jewish tomb but with no connection to Jesus of Nazareth. This may be so.


Heather said...

for official details and original footage

Rev. Spike said...

you are a gentlemen and a scholar :)

Phil Gons said...

Excellent post again. Thank you. I've been collecting links to various news coverage and blog responses here that some may find helpful.


kentuckyliz said...

It is really ridiculous to believe such speculations and stories about Mary Magdalene and Jesus (married with kids?! Jesus buries?!) when my people were there and knew her, and much information about the lives of the Apostles and the Early Church Fathers was passed on, handed down, received, and preserved. If those things were true, it would have been in the (small-t) tradition all along. I am well read in early christian writings and church documents and the small-t tradition, and it's just not there. The modern anthropological perspective is interesting, but what truly convinces me is the point I make here. Unfortunately, there are a lot of Christians who are very divorced from history before the Reformation or the founding of their particular denomination, who haven't read the Early Church Fathers, some of whom were trained by the Apostles themselves! They knew these people firsthand.

(Same applies for Da Vinci Code speculations. Pure bunk.)

If Jesus were buried somewhere, early Christians would have venerated his relics. There is less than zero evidence of this, in fact just the opposite.

Alas, there is nothing new under the sun. This is just the latest controversy, which inevitably happens around Lent and Eastertime each year.

If Christ is not risen, our faith is in vain and we are the most pitiable of fools.

Peace be with you, peace that surpasseth all understanding, not the peace of the world but the peace Our Lord gave us after his Resurrection and before the Ascension!

He is Risen! Alleluia!

Regina Caeli, laetare!

(Please pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the gift of faith for those weak Christians and post-Christians who are easily led to new, wild teachings to tickle their ears. They need our help. St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in the battle! St. Athanasius, pray for us. St. Polycarp, pray for us. St. Justin Martyr, pray for us. St. Ignatius of Antioch, pray for us. St. Iraneus of Lyons, pray for us.)

kentuckyliz said...

I have a friend who is a theologian and Eastern Orthodox, and she says there is nothing in the history, writings, or small-t traditions of the Eastern Orthodox churches that resembles anything like the family tomb theory or the DaVinci Code. So there is no difference among the historic apostolic eastern or western church that was there from the very beginning and knew these people--zero, zip, nada.

(Didn't mean to imply a division in the pre-1054 Church by saying eastern or western--just referring to geography there, and acknowledging the divergence in 1054--but these are not memories of the apostolic Church which later split.)

Rodney Reeves said...

thanks, Ben, for your tireless work. I tell my students, "this is the best time to study theology: we have bright minds in the faith who are leading the discussion."

Two comments:

Given what I've read so far, I'm an unbeliever (in the Talpiot tomb as Jesus' family), which means I'm still a believer.

As I've followed the discussion here and elsewhere, I'm puzzled by Tabor's reaction to the uncharitable responses he's received. It is so disingenuous to say, "why is everyone so upset? Give me a chance." It reminds me of the so-called historians who question the holocaust and can't figure out what all the fuss is about. Please. Tabor et al. should be glad they haven't questioned the historical Mohammed--then there would be something to worry about.

matthew said...

It is interesting that so much blind faith is put towards writings of people and as Rowena points out "passed on, handed down, received, and preserved" millenium ago. Didnt anybody play the game telephone when they were children besides me?

I dont want to prove or disprove either side of this argument but I dont think the leap of faith taken with strict interpretation of the bible is less than that taken by the science truth seekers.

Peter Kirk said...

I hesitate to disagree with Prof Bauckham, but he is not quite correct in writing "Mary Magdalen, who is always called in the Greek of the New Testament Maria". In fact she is called Mariam in Matthew 27:61; 28:1; John 20:16,18, in the Nestle-Aland text, although Maria elsewhere. But manuscripts vary. By contrast, Mary the mother of Jesus is always Mariam, never Maria except in the genitive Marias which could be an irregular genitive of Mariam.

Nevertheless, Bauckham's argument holds: there is no reason to think that this particular Mary was Mary Magdalene.

matthew said...

By all means Rodney, plenty of blood has been spilt in the name of Christ.

kens said...

Dr. Witherington,

I am not a Christian but have been corresponding with Gary Habermas for about 2 years now. I figured this question should be asked of you, however. I see that Jacobovici has quite a story that says the 10 ossuary was missing and exactly matched the measurements of the James ossuary. Yet, Amos Kloner says the 10th ossuary is not missing, didn't match the measurements of the James ossuary, and didn't even have an inscription. I can't get a straight answer here. Why would Jacobovici's crew make this up if it's so easily refuted and regardless, why hasn't the IAA come out and said it wasn't missing. Is it missing or not? Who is right? Jacobovici says Kloner never even saw the 10th ossuary. I am so confused! HELP!

kentuckyliz said...

An amusing list of the annual controversies about Jesus can be found at Mark Shea's blog.

One comboxer said that the latest theory is that Jesus is the father of Anna Nicole Smith's baby. LOL

PS. More blood has been shed by post-Christian atheists and atheists than any "religious" wars. Evidence: the bloodbath of the 20th century. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc.

Matthew: if you are a Christian, you will see that formula in the Bible itself. What was handed down to us, that we received, that we teach to you. Over and over. So if that is wrong, then you must distrust the Bible itself. My church existed before the New Testament was written, those separate books were discerned, and the Bible was formulated. (Canon of Scripture.) It's the product of Catholic Church authority. That's why those who reject that authority are on shaky ground to even know what the Bible is and very susceptible to chasing after rejected pseudo-Gospels like Thomas and Judas. A Gospel isn't a Gospel just because "someone" says it is.

Or should I start doubting what's written in the New Testament, because it was written so much later and it's all a game of operator anyway? There's a lot of scholars who take that approach.

ClokWerk said...

I personally have no opinion about this.

However, on point #3, just curious, but what weight would you give to writings that claimed a donkey could talk?

Also, on #3, what 1st century NT literature are you talking about? Has it been dated to the 1st century?

On #4, again, how can you say Jesus was never called son of Joseph? On the authority of the NT? I hope you are not going to use circular reasoning to uphold your preconceived notions of Christianity.

Rowena says, "If those things were true, it would have been in the (small-t) tradition all along."
Come on, Rowena! Are you suggesting that the fairytales of the Rome can be taken to have been the original beliefs of the eary Christians? All of them? Are you suggesting some do not change? None of them?

Speaking of reasonble writings, what about those that tell of a ghost impregnating a 13 year old girl? What would you think if your daughter at 13 told you a ghost made her pregnant? And then said she knew it was true because an angel met her and explained it to her? Seriously, ever truly, and honestly think about that (without getting your back up?)

Like I said, I really don't care one way or the other about the Jesus or the James ossuary. I just find it interesting to watch people scramble right away depending on which view they want to hold on to dearly.

Anyway, I think this article was interesting. I believe both sides need to be challenged, and both sides need to be open to the possibility that they are wrong. Everyone should be open-minded (and that includes Christians).

Anyway, have a nice day.

matthew said...

Rowena, it is certainly not my intention to condemn all in the Christian faith for the persecution and spilt blood in the name of Christ over the past millenium, however, the crusades could be an example of a period in time when the name of Christ was used in immoral context. While this was not an organized unity between Christian leaders of the time, it is certainly a strike in Christian history.

As far as biblical context is concerned, I would never judge anybody for their beliefs. My initial posting was intended to make claim that science is no more of a leap in belief than religion is. As a Jew, I consider the bible a wonderful moral ground and there are incredible lessons that should help sculpt and mold our daily lives. We are only forced to distrust the bible itself when its meaning is taken as infallible and literal. Infallablity is a shaky line to walk.

Jay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jay said...

Dr. Witherington,

I can't but comment on the irony of their splashy DNA testing on the second Mary box. They have shown that Jesus was not related to this person on the matrilineal line. Does this not HURT the case that this is Jesus of Nazareth's tomb? After all, Jesus had a maternal aunt named Mary. Now we know that she is NOT there. So, where's the second Mary?

Here's an odds question for the filmmakers -- what are the chances that there would be two Mary's in Jesus' tomb, but neither of them is his Aunt Mary?

One thing that the filmmakers seem too unaware of, especially in their promulgation of those ridiculous statistics, is that the hypothesis that this is Jesus' tomb has to explain the ossuaries found in it. It is not the other way around! You cannot just point to two ossuaries that fit the known facts about Jesus' family.

You ALSO have to explain (a) the other ossuaries that should not be there but are and (b) the ossuaries that should be there but are not. If they have showed that
the second Mary was related along the matrilineal line to Jesus, they would have ameliorated some the problems created (b) (assuming, of course, that they could link Aunt Mary to the name on the box; by far, I am no expert on these naming matters, but their "looseness" with historical data seems to me that they would have had just as easy a time linking this box to Aunt Mary as they do to Mary Magdalene.

By my estimate, this tomb has 3 out of 6 named ossuaries consistent with Jesus' family. Meanwhile, it is missing at least 6 immediate family members and the extended family members of whom scholars know.

In scientific terms -- the goal of any theory is to explain as much variation as possible. Their theory explains VERY little variation. They have a sample of six named boxes and only three "successes." A second goal is not to create too many problems by unsettling what has already been settled by the scientific community. Clearly, this theory does that. It throws out the window almost everything we thought we knew about early Christianity AND it throws into real question EVERY primary document we have. Simply stated, how did they miss a Judah, who was buried right down the street?

That they still promote it tells me that these people are innocent of scientific methodology.

This is just another way in which Christianity is held to a ridiculously anti-Christian standard. Suppose that the box in question did not say "Jesus son of Joseph." Suppose that it said "Steve son of Stu." What is more, we find that there is a box there named "Linda" -- whom we knew was Steve's mother -- and a box there named "Joey" -- whom we know was his younger brother.

Instantly, we might be intrigued -- like that first rush we get when we think we "on" to something. But suddenly we notice there is another "Linda." Who is she? There's a "Eric son of Steve." What? Steve didn't have a son! There's a "Phil." Who the heck is Phil! There were six names, and our knowledge about Steve only fits three of them!

What's more, we already had a fairly well-settled understanding of what happened to Steve. This pretty much upends everything we thought we knew.

Question: do we accept that this is our Steve? No! The reasons are twofold: (a) the theory that this is Steve does not do a very good job of explaining the tomb and (b) the theory that this is Steve upends everything we thought we knew.

The filmmakers remind me of people who get all worked up when they
predict two songs in a row on the adio before they come on. "I must
be psychic!!!!" No, you're not. If you play the song game long
enough, you'll predict two in a row.

With the exception of Tabor, it is clear to me that there is not a true scholar in the group. These guys seem utterly innocent of scientific methodology.

Fun footnote: I am in the process of reworking the proper statistical probabilities that this is Jesus. If we exclude the James box -- which I think we should -- the chances are about 0.23%. That's NOT 1 in 5. That's about 1 in 400! The authors got 600 to 1 because they asked what are the chances that, in 4 tries, we would get a Jesus, a Mary, a Joseph, another Mary. In actuality, the correct analysis is -- what is the probability that, in 10 tries (as there are 10 ossuaries), we would get at least one Jesus, at least one Joseph and at least one Mary (the only three known to have been linked to Jesus). What is more, they treat "Jesus son of Joseph" and "Joseph" as independent events. That is specious. Here's a question: if you find a "Jesus son of Joseph," what are the chances you will eventually find a "Joseph" or variation?

This is the correct way to do it. And it yields a 1 in 400 chances that it IS Jesus, not a 1 in 600 chance that it is not Jesus! And this even assumes that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed a candidate for this tomb, which -- as Dr. Witherington has made very clear -- he was not.

As somebody who is very conscious of proper scientific methodology, it is very obvious to me that there are no real scientists here. These guys are adventurers. There is a difference. The latter group are biased toward finding cool stuff. The former are not. This is why the academy is staffed with scientists and adventurers.

Jay Cost

Ben DiStefano said...

Dr. Witherington,
I am a pastor with the C&MA and I am wondering if I could copy your blogs on the Tomb and make them available to my congregation?

I love your work.

Why are you never on CNN, Larry, or FOX?

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Ben you are welcome to link to my blog posts if you like. I have been on those shows you mentioned except Larry King Live. The question about the contradiction between Simcha and Klosner on ossuary 10 is a mystery to me as well. I would believe the IAA and Klosner frankly.

Ben W.

Anonymous said...

I find it strange that Jay Cost has been writing post after post ripping the statistical argument (the MAIN and pretty much only support for the Jesus tomb hypothesis) of the filmmakers to shreds, and nobody here in the comments has paid attention to him, whether to commend or criticize. Having taken some statistics myself I think his criticisms are right on the mark, yet all Dr Tabor can say in reply (in his most recent blog post) is that the comments concerning statistics on Ben Witherington's blog are 'misleading'. First of all, that's nothing like an adequate response to these challenges. Second, he's not a statistician, so how on earth would he know that they are misleading??

Enough with the secondary issues. We can debate endlessly whether Jesus' family would have a tomb in Jerusalem vs Nazareth, etc. but the heart of the case for this being the Jesus tomb is the statistical argument. If that doesn't get off the ground, the filmmakers don't have a prayer (no pun intended). All the other evidence is conjectural and very flimsy, while the counter-evidence remains substantial (that we have no other information concerning a 'Judah son of Jesus', that 'Matthew' has no connection to Jesus' family that we know of, that it flies in the face of everything we know about Jesus from the Gospels and secular history).

Having read just about everything surrounding this case, from the official websites, the blog commentaries, the news channels and Dr Tabor's blog, it seems to me that everything there is to know about this case is already out in the open, and the figures just don't add up. There's about as much evidence for this being the tomb of Jesus as there was for the claims of the 'Da Vinci Code' (and shame on the book website for linking to 'alternate theories' and esoterica), with just enough grounding in actual archeology to make it look more substantial.

Pretty soon I'm going to be bored of this, quite frankly. It was fun for a while, but it's time to get on with my life.

John said...


The important points in BW's item #3 are:

The Acts of Philip and Gospel of Mary don't date before the end of the second century A.D. and therefore can't be considered equal in historical reliability with (or in place of) much earlier writings (from multiple individuals) that contradict them.

Most importantly, "[i]t does not identify Mariamene as Mary Magdalene, rather it identifies her as the sister of Philip the apostle. It is the unproven theory of Francis Bovon, without real supporting evidence that Mariamene refers to Mary Magdalene. There are two problems with this: 1) we have both Mary Magdalene, and Philip in the NT, and the two are never connected at all. Indeed they are from different cities it seems clear..."

It is simple conjecture, based on no science or probability whatsoever, that Mariamene = Mary Magdalene. That is a big problem for the "Jesus Tomb" theory.

It all appears at this point to be built on conjecture and assumption (and biased ones at that), something science should never be based on.

John said...


Here's something on your question about the James ossuary taken from

James Tabor who is one of those interviewed by Cameron in support of the claims being made by this documentary argues that the James ossuary fits the description of the missing tenth ossuary from this tomb. But the evidence flatly contradicts this. New Testament scholar Mark Goodacre reports on an interview on Xtalk radio with Stephen Goranson and John Poirier, who made two important points. First of all, Goranson explains that it had previously been reported that the ossuary that went missing had "no inscription" on it at all. [Amos Kloner, "A Tomb with Inscribed Ossuaries in East Talpiot," 'Atiqot 29 (1996): 17, Table 3]. Secondly, John Poirier relates that the description of the James ossuary does not match that of the missing one from the tomb:

"Another thing that doesn't add up are the dimensions of the ossuaries in question. As I posted on this list on Oct 8, 2006, Tabor's claim that "the dimensions of the missing tenth ossuary [from the Talpiot tomb] are precisely the same, to the centimeter, to those of the James Ossuary" is bogus. BAR lists the dimensions of the James ossuary as 50.5 cm x 25 cm x 30.5 cm, while the report on the Talpiot tomb published in Atiqot 29 (1996) 15-22, lists the tenth ossuary as measuring 60 cm x 26 cm x 30 cm. Tabor has been aware of this discrepancy at least since Nov 23, 2006 (when I first heard Tabor's complaint about a piece I wrote for Jerusalem Perspective, in which I cite this along with several other problems with his theory). He could only continue to hold his theory after that date, therefore, if he has reason to suspect that the published report on one of the two ossuaries is in error."


Ben Witherington said...

Thanks John for clearing up the discrepancy. I was afraid of this. I also asked James Tabor about this discrepancy but have not heard back.


Jay said...

Thanks, J.D.

Joel Gorveatte said...

I know the "number's guy" around here "jay" has been quoting portions of the data they used for their statistical model in the "documentary". Here is the DIRECT QUOTE from James Tabor's website:

Experts I am working with tell me that assuming a family size of six, the probability of these six names in these relationships occurring together in one family is: 1/253,403.Therefore, out of 253,403 families (a population of 1,520,418), this particular combination of names would occur only once. Obviously the population of late 2nd Temple Jerusalem was nothing of that sort, but perhaps only 25,000 (Jeremias) to 50,000...My statistical consultant gave me a very simple analogy: Imagine a football stadium filled with 50,000 people—men, women, and children. This is an average estimate of the population of ancient Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. If we ask all the males named Jesus to stand, based on the frequency of that name, we would expect 2,796 to rise. If we then ask all those with a father named Joseph to remain standing there would only be 351 left. If we further reduce this group by asking only those with a mother named Mary to remain standing we would get down to only 173. If we then ask only those of this group with a brother named Joseph only 23 are left. And finally, only of these the ones with a brother named James, there’s less than a 3/4 chance that even 1 person remains standing. Prof. Andre Feuerverger, of the University of Toronto, a highly regarded senior scholar in the field did the formal statistics for the Discovery project. His figure of probability came out to 1/600.

I am no expert at statistics. But how many errors do you see in that model? It says, "Stay standing if your father is Joseph and your mother is Mary." Uhh....excuse me.
- Based on your ossuaries there is absolutely NO reference on the "Jesus box" to his mother being Mary.
- There is no DNA testing yet to determine if the "Jose" in the other box is a blood relative to "Jeshua"
- There is no certainty that the "James" ossuary came from this tomb.

So based on Tabor's own words from his statistician, their calculation of probability is based on things that they are assuming. NOT things they have proven.

I don't the book and Discovery Channel will emphasize that. But if they go ahead and prove these things (under peer review)...then we can talk.

Joel Gorveatte said...

Sorry... that last paragraph was supposed to say:

I DOUBT the book and Discovery Channel will emphasize that. But if they go ahead and prove these things (under peer review)...then we can talk.

John said...

One other thing...

The claim that this Jesus and this Miriamne must have been married to each other because the DNA test shows they weren't related, and only related or married people would be buried together makes little sense - even granting that only blood relations or spouses were ever buried together (what about adopted children, children of previous spouses, slaves, etc.?).

There were ten people buried in this tomb, not two. Miriamne could have been married to any one of the males in the tomb (Matthew, Judah, etc.)!

For example, if this Jesus and Matthew were brothers, and she were the wife of Matthew, she could well be buried here and not be a blood relation of this Jesus nor be his wife. This really calls for a thorough DNA examination of the relationship between every person found in the tomb in order to draw any conclusions at all. Of course the originators of the "Jesus Tomb" didn't do any further DNA studies which makes this really seem like a bunch of un-science to me.

I am hard pressed not to conclude that they purposely did not do the DNA studies because they weren't interested in finding out the truth. NO meaningful conclusions can be drawn without this and nothing should have been published before this was done.

If it were to turn out that there was at least one other male among the ten remains that was not related to Miriamne, it would be impossible to draw conclusions on marital relationships between here and one specific male from the DNA, barring of course DNA proof of one the buried individuals being the offspring of her and one of the males.

Speaking of which, wouldn't that have been even more sensational? Proving that the "Judah son of Jesus" was the son of this Jesus and the Miriamne found here would be a bigger sell - though without proving this Jesus to be Jesus Christ. Why didn't they go there?

Without all this, we're talking about a specific collection of 3 names (Jesus, Joseph, Miriamne) appearing in a random set of ten, aren't we?

Daniel said...

Dr. Witherington, thank you for your work on this matter. I have also found Jay's posts over the past few days very helpful and my thanks to him as well. However, I do take exception to one thing Jay posted today:

"With the exception of Tabor, it is clear to me that there is not a true scholar in the group. These guys seem utterly innocent of scientific methodology."

I would put forth the suggestion that a scholar who publicly supports the ludicrous endeavor that the "Tomb of Jesus" has been revealed to be should also be regarded as "not a true scholar" and also "innocent of scientific methodology."

On a related note, Tabor and Simcha J. are friends and are working together on a "film" version of Tabor's "Jesus Dynasty" book. It should be released NEXT Easter season along with Tabor's book on...(shudder!) PAUL. Something to look forward to.

Unknown said...

Having viewed your comments as to what is wrong with "The Jesus Tomb" theory I have to tell you that there is no quicker way to lose an argument than to blatantly misquote someone you disagree with. Doctor Tabor has not, as you allege, "reversed himself to support the Jesus Family Tomb theory", in respect of the paternity of Jesus, indeed, what he states, quite unequivocally, on his February 27, 2007 Blog is "I don’t think it likely that Joseph was the father of Jesus". TJHoffman

Eric T. said...

Hi Matthew,

When discussing the transmission of the biblical text you wrote "Didn't anybody play the game telephone when they were children besides me".

However, "telephone" is not analogous to the oral tradition in which the bible was passed down. In telephone you are relying on individual memory as each person in line hears the saying in isolation. But with the oral tradition there were large numbers of people who heard the teachings of Jesus and the apostles first hand. Their memories were not individual but collective and thus provided a corrective element that is not present in telephone.

Moreover, one must consider how deeply entrenched the culture of memory was in ancient Israel. They did not have the printed page to rely on so memorization was central to their way of life. Darrell Bock's chapter in Jesus Under Fire provides an excellent review of the oral tradition.

For your consideration


Antillean said...

Thanks again, Mr. Witherington.

There's another development from Tabor's blog. He quotes (what appears to be) a wire release saying:

Given the worldwide interest in the subject, Ted Koppel, Managing Editor of the Discovery Channel, will moderate “The Lost Tomb of Jesus: A Critical Look,” a panel versed in archaeology, theology, Biblical research and other related disciplines immediately following the Sunday premiere of “The Lost Tomb of Jesus.”

That sounds great. The first thing I wondered was if this is in response to the almost unanimous scepticism (and criticism) that news of the documentary has received from the relevant scholarly community or if it was planned long before this week. Secondly, does anyone have any idea who will be on the panel? I suppose Tabor will be there. Dr. Witherington, have you heard anything?

Thanks again.


Mark Baker-Wright said...


Generally speaking, a very well-thought-out post. However, why deride the gnostic gospels (such as the Acts of Philip) for talking animals, when we have TWO examples of such in our own Old Testament?

Jay said...

Joel --

Indeed, it is true. Tabor's recap is so misguided that it is ironic that he tells us, "Some people often misunderstand statistical arguments."


I am right now working on an extended, 5,000+ word article for the website at which I work, Real Clear Politics. In it, I offer a complete deconstruction of their statistical claims specifically and their inferential claims generally.

From what everything I have read -- they do not make a draw a single inference from the data that is (a) valid and (b) new/exciting/challenging. On every subject where they claim to breach new ground -- the patina, the DNA, the statistics -- they make one mistake after another.

Generally, what we would call this is "Type II" error, or the error of the fale positive, which is thinking you have found something when you have actually found nothing at all. This, I think, is what happens when you do "science" for profit. You are biased toward what the audience wants. Not in a malevolent way, not in any way where you would fail to pass a lie detector. One can be biased and still act in good faith. That is, I believe, what they have done here.

Jay Cost

Ariadne Green said...

Dear Ben,
Thank you for your hermeneutic research despite the holes in it. We are coming from a similar camp. We both know the tomb does not have the remains of Jesus or any member of his family for that matter. Point one, that the inscriptions are in three different languages doesn't necessarily suggest to me the notion that the remains are from three different generations. The fact is that that author of the Gospel of Thomas dating back to perhaps 60 AD used the pseudonym Didyimus Judas Thomas, three names in the same three different languages.
Frankly, Ben spending time analyizing the inscription on a phony tomb seems a waste of time. We have to look not only at this discovery, but also to the last one--The Gospel of Judas to understand what is really going on here. I spent weeks comparing the Gospel of Judas to other Gnostic tractates and discovered it drew from far too many different essays, was full of outright plagiarisms and included an array of Jesus's idioms drawn from John, Matthew, and Luke. Putting it all together, I realized that this document that they persuaded the public was the same document Ireneaus wrote about, was a fake.
I want your opinion however. Please go to and read my analysis.

normdoering said...

I did a blog post on the show too:

Here's a taste:

Did they find Jesus H. Christ's bones?

This is the dark side of science fiction; it's the lure of pseudoscience that sucks in some of science fictions most popular players. Remember Leonard Nimoy hosting a program called "In Search of," the supposed "investigations" into various mysteries like Atlantis, the Amityville horror, Bigfoot, ghosts and UFO Cover-Ups? Remember Jonathan Frakes narrating Alien Autopsy: (Fact or Fiction?) in 1995?

The science fiction magazines of the 1940s, especially Amazing Stories, were instrumental in creating today's UFO cults. Some writers and editors claimed that they had personal experience with UFOs. Look up Ray Palmer and "The Shaver Mystery." Find out what L. Ron Hubbard, creator of Scientology did for a living before he came up with Scientology. Learn where he first published his ideas, in a science fiction magazine that became "Analog." Remember the Nazis on the Moon in Robert Heinlein's "Rocket Ship Galileo?" That too was once a tawdry pseudoscience fad.

Now, Aliens and Terminator director James Cameron and "investigative journalist" Simcha Jacobovichi claim to have found the bones of the New Testament Jesus. If true it indicates that Jesus never was resurrected from the grave and ascended into Heaven, thereby debunking a core dogma of standard Christianity. Problem is that Cameron and Jacobovichi have already shot their credibility by making a documentary that claimed to have "proved" the Exodus.

Ben Witherington said...


Thanks for your post but there is no way on God's green earth that the Gospel of Thomas dates any earlier than the second century A.D. That's very clear because it knows and quotes not only bits from all four canonical Gospels (including John) but also knows not only the sayings material in those Gospels but the narrative editing. Craig Evans has recently made a strong argument for that document coming from the late second century A.D. in Syria. It certainly represents a later not earlier form of the Gospel tradition, and one that has been mixed together with pantheistic ideas ("cleave the wood and I am there") misogyny (you must make the female male so she can be saved) and other non- Jewish, non-Jesus ideas. You might want to look at my chapter on Thomas in the Gospel Code.


Ben Witherington said...

P.S. You are so right that the Gospel of Judas is a late composite document that tells us nothing new about the historical Judas and Jesus. Its later fiction meant to support the Gnostic views.

Query said...


If Mara is short for Martha, doesn't that actually support their thesis? Wasn't it Mary sister of Martha who, in that Gnostic text, is said to be Jesus' "companion," which some take to mean spouse, and is believed by some scholars to be the same person as Mary Magdalene? It seems surprising that they didn't argue that your version is true, and Mary and Martha are sisters buried together, and say that such bolsters their case given all the other name similarities. Responses?

DocMichael said...

Some follow up thoughts on the errors in reasoning I see in the statistical "analysis" that I made on the prior blog. Here is the full stadium analogy that Tabor gives on his blog:

"My statistical consultant gave me a very simple analogy: Imagine a football stadium filled with 50,000 people—men, women, and children. This is an average estimate of the population of ancient Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. If we ask all the males named Jesus to stand, based on the frequency of that name, we would expect 2,796 to rise. If we then ask all those with a father named Joseph to remain standing there would only be 351 left. If we further reduce this group by asking only those with a mother named Mary to remain standing we would get down to only 173. If we then ask only those of this group with a brother named Joseph only 23 are left. And finally, only of these the ones with a brother named James, there’s less than a 3/4 chance that even 1 person remains standing."

First, it is an error to limit the number of stadium to 50,000. While that may have been the average population of Jerusalem at any given time, it most certainly doesn't represent the population over the entire period. Over the course of nearly a century, there would have been a considerably larger number of people living, dying, and migrating through the city. Thus this number should be bumped up considerably, to say 200,000.

Then please note this sleight of hand. Asking who has a mother named Mary and a brother named Joseph presumes the relationships we know about Jesus. But these particular relationships between the folks in the tomb are NOT known. The argument already assumes what is sought to be proved!

And the bit about James is pure hokum, as apart from conjecture, the James ossuary is not connected to this tomb.

Correct these fallacies and the argument should properly be:

"Imagine a football stadium filled with 200,000 people—men, women, and children....If we ask all the males named Jesus to stand, based on the frequency of that name, we would expect 11,184 to rise. If we then ask all those with a father named Joseph to remain standing there would only be 1,404 left. If we further reduce this group by asking only those with a relative named Mary to remain standing we would get down to only ???. If we then ask only those of this group with a relative named Joseph only ???? are left."

While I can't fill in the blanks numbers, given the popularity of the names Mary and Joseph, I would imagine that quite a number of folks would still be standing at the end of this exercise.

This still doesn't capture the real chicanery involved in the way this matter is being presented. I don't want to bore anyone with the points I made yesterday, but here's how it would play out in the stadium scenario.

After going through the first two questions, the following question would be asked of the 1,404 left standing, the moderator asks:

"Please remain standing if, you have at least three relatives, either through blood or marriage, with any of the following names: Mary, Maria, Mariam, Mariamenou, Joseph, Jose, Joses, Simon, Judas, James."

How many would still be on their feet? Bear in mind that the theory allows for at least three (actually more, since they make room for a Matthew) generations of relatives, including spouses. Let's be conservative and say that the average couple produced four children. This would mean that each of our remaining contestants would have a minimum of 25 relatives, 2 parents, 1 spouse, 3 siblings, 3 sibling spouses, four children, and 12 nieces and nephews), 12 males and 13 females. Given that 1 in 4 women were named Mary or one of it's variations, everyone would likely have 2 matches right of the gate. The odds of having at least one male in the group with these other common names would be near certainty. Thus, my guess is that under these conditions, most of the 1,404 would still be standing.

Nevertheless, assume half sit down, leaving 700.

The final question would be: "If you have a son named Jehuda, or if one of your other relatives is also named Yeshua and he has a son named Jehuda, please remain standing."

I can't locate the stats of the frequency of the name Jehuda, but let's go with a low figure, 5% (same as Jose). Further, let's eliminate the possibility that there's another relative named Jeshua who has a son named Jehuda. On average, each of our remaining 700 Jeshuas has two sons. Out of those 1,400, the 5% figure would leave 70 Jeshua's still standing.

Don't like that initial 200,000 figure? Fine, scale it back to 50,000 and we're still left with 18 candidates.

Final comment from moderator: "Congratulations to those of you still standing. You are eligible to try out for a lead role in Mr. Cameron's new production. Shooting begins next week."

DocMichael said...

I just found this rather interesting bit and thought I'd pass it along. This how the website for his brand new show, The Naked Archeologist, describes Simcha Jacobovichi:

In this world premiere documentary series for VisionTV, the two-time Emmy Award winning producer and director shows viewers Biblical archaeology like they’ve never seen it before.

He dances. He raps. He clambers under barbed wire and

over fences in search of the most extraordinary archaeological finds from the ancient Middle East, and crosses swords with some of the world’s foremost archaeologists, historians and scientists.

Shot on location in Israel, Egypt and Greece, The Naked Archaeologist airs Wednesdays at 8:30 pm ET, beginning January 10, 2007.

Fast, funny and irreverent (think the Ali G. meets Indiana Jones), Jacobovici asks the questions we all want to know the answers to: Why is it so bad to be called a Philistine? Was Jezebel really that sexy? What do you do when you find a 2,000-year-old palace under your house? And where do you stop for a good falafel when you’re on your way to find the real Mount Sinai?

“My goal,” says Jacobovici, “is to demystify the Bible in general, and archaeology in particular, to brush away the cobwebs and burst academic bubbles.”

Drawing on years of personal research and his experience in bringing history to life on the screen, Jacobovici fearlessly probes some of the most controversial new theories in Biblical archaeology: that an African army rescued Jerusalem in the 8th Century B.C.; that the invention of the alphabet contributed to the Biblical Exodus; and that recently discovered Bronze Age ceramic penises may explain why Delilah fell for Samson.

Says Alberta Nokes, VisionTV’s Director of Independent Production and the Executive Producer of The Naked Archaeologist: “This series is a completely fresh way of looking at archaeology and history. Simcha takes the viewer to places most of us will never have access to and reveals what archaeology can – and cannot – tell us about history and the Bible. And he has great fun doing it."

“The show also helps us to see that the ancient past is still with us. Only The Naked Archaeologist could relate a history of the alphabet that brings together ancient inscriptions, the Biblical story of Exodus and the ‘tags’ of modern-day graffiti artists.”

And this from his own webpage:

Mr. Jacobovici is fluent in four languages, English, French, Hebrew and Romanian. An Israeli-born Canadian, Jacobovici received a B.A. with Honours in Philosophy and Political Science from McGill University. He also has an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Toronto.

DocMichael said...

Breaking news!

Jesus' tomb found again!

And yet again:

Yikes! Jesus is all over the place. Jerusalem, Kashmir, and Japan! I guess he really is omnipresent!

yuckabuck said...

Dr. Witherington,
Here is an excellent analysis of some of the DNA issues involved from the "higgaion" website. Since you seem to have become one of the go-to guys on this issue, it may contain some useful stuff:

This sure has been entertaining in a sick sort of train wreck kind of way. May the Spirit of Truth guide you into all truth regarding this matter (John 16:13).

Jay said...

Doc Michael --

Here is how I ran the computations.

I doubled Tabor's number to 100,000 for the same reason you quadrupled it to 200,000. I was being more conservative, but I would prefer to be more accurate. I wonder, if we know the average population in Jerusalem at 50,000 during the Herodian period, and the average lifespan to be about 40 years, can we calculate how many would have lived?

Anyway, the tomb has three names that sync up with Jesus of Nazareth. So, we should see how many others it could be.

First -- Jesus son of Joseph is simply computed by Probability of Jesus X Probability of Joseph. Out of 100,000, that leaves 702 thereabouts.

It also leaves 9 remaining spots in the ossuary.

Next iteration: remain standing if and only if one out of your nine "closest" relatives (read: those with whom you might one day share a tomb) is named "Mary." That is a simply binomial calculation, you get about 64% with at least one close relative named Mary.

So, we are down to 449.

Next is "Jose." There are 8 slots remaining. There is about a 36% chance that at least one of these slots would be filled by a Joseph.

However, we cannot do the same for him because "Jesus son of Joseph" and "Jose" SURELY are not independent events! Finding one increases the chances of finding the other. A Seinfeld reference is appropriate: "You dipped the chip, you took a bit, and then you dipped again!" He cannot do that.

Think of it this way:
Probability of Joseph = P(A)
Probability of Jesus = P(B)
Probability of Jesus son of Joseph = P(A) X P(B) = P(C)

Probability of Joseph given Jesus son of Joseph = P(A|C) = P(A|(B and A). That equals 100%!!!

Of course, the name on the Joseph tomb is different from the writing on the Jesus son of Joseph tomb. It is "Jose." So, we cannot simply multiply by 1 and not reduce the number of candidates at all. Nevertheless, the Jesus son of Joseph tomb indicates, minimally, that Joseph is a "family name." Maybe the person in this ossuary was a son, a grandson, a grandfather, whatever. We CANNOT claim that it is independent, though, even if it is not 100%.

It seems reasonable to me to say that the chances of finding a "Joseph" variant are doubled given the discovery of Jesus son of Joseph. If that is the case, we get 72%, which means that there are 323 potential candidates remaining.

Also -- this is why it is unimpressive when we factor in the James ossuary, should we decide to. It is not the "nail in the coffin," so to speak. Why? Because the probability of finding a "James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" at least once in 7 slots is MUCH HIGHER considering that we already have a "Jesus son of Joseph." What we would do is take an estimate of the average number of male siblings a Herodian Jerusalemite would have (callt it 3 for the sake of argument). The chances of any given person being named James was, I believe, something on the order of 1.5%. Thus, the probability of having 1 or more brothers named "James" in 3 trials is 4.4%.

That still leaves 14.22 candidates, including Jesus, or a 7% chance.

But here is the fun part: when we ask "Who has a son named Judah, a relative named Matthew, and a relative named Mary" -- guess who sits down? Our boy Jesus!

And that even assumes that he would be in the initial candidate pool -- which of course nobody argued, including Tabor, before James Cameron sunk $3.5 million into this project!

This is what really bakes my clams. The documentarians fail to realize that it is NOT ENOUGH to explain a little bit of variation. Their theory has to (a) place Jesus in Jerusalem for burial, (b) explain why there are strangers to the historical record in the tomb with him and (c) explain why at least 62.5% of his known, immediate family -- James, Simon, Judah, Joseph and at least one sister -- are not there as well!

I would take all of this a step further. Suppose for a second that the Jesus tomb, rather than create a whole set of unimaginably complicated empirical questions (i.e. we have to rethink the ENTIRE narrative of the early Church, and possibly toss out our entire corpus of reliable primary documents because they were so evidently wrong if this tomb is the real tomb), suppose that it SOLVES EVERY LINGERING QUESTION about Jesus. We would STILL have to reject the hypothesis. Why? Because there is only a 0.3% chance this is Jesus of Nazareth.

Heck -- give them James as well. Still, we MUST reject the hypothesis because there is only a 7.7% this is Jesus of Nazareth.

In my introductory graduate course on data analysis -- we learned that our statistics can produce three scenarios. First, you found what you were looking for. Good job and go publish! Second, you might be on to something, but it is too soon to say. Go do some more research and see if you can nail it down. The third -- give it up. Your data does not fit the pattern you think it does. There is no chance.

This is solidly in the third camp!

Grifman said...

Jay and Docmichael,

Yeah, I spotted the problem with their population figures right off the bat. They did nothing to account for the "turnover" in population due to births/deaths over whatever period the tomb was in use. I'm no professional statistician by any means but I was surprised that their expert didn't adjust for that factor. I've read that the initial survey of the tomb said that the tomb had been used for 3 or 4 generations so those would be reasonable estimates.

That said, estimates the population figures for Jerusalem of the time period vary widely - I've seen them estimated as low as 25,000 and as high as 100,000.

Going back to how long the tomb was in use, that leaves us with another problem. The original assumption by the tomb group is that other than the child and the Mary they identify as Jesus' mother, that everyone else is of the same generation (which of course fits their theory). But that's not necessarily true. If the tomb was used for several generations, who knows how these individuals were all related? There could be multiple generations in there which totally screws with their theory. They never even address this possiblity (like so many others!)

Jay said...

I do not mean to beat a dead horse about the statistics. But I think it is the only potentially valid plank they possess.

And there is something deeply disturbing about their methodology. These guys are either ridiculously ignorant of statistics or just downright irresponsible. Actually, I think the two are inter-related. I think it is deeply irresponsible to be so ridiculously ignorant of statistics.

We have been discussing how they have misspecified their statistical model. Take a look at the official statistical model on the Discovery website. Their claim is that it calculates the probability that this is Jesus of Nazareth's family tomb. And -- wowsa! -- they come up with 600-to-1 odds. That seems impressive. I've already discussed at length how ridiculous their method is. But assume that it is valid.

At the end of their mathematical rainbow, they get the result of 1/600. They imply that the chances are 99.13% that this is Jesus of Nazareth's tomb.

But this is NOT what this number is! This is only of value if they are offering a confidence interval -- like a t-test or a z-test. But that is not what they are offering. It is actually the probability that any given person in Herodian Jerusalem would have this constellation of 6 names in a family of 6. There were at least 100,000 people in the whole of Herodian Jerusalem, so that means that -- by their own estimate -- there were 166 such people!

Let me repeat that: their own analysis virtually guarantees that this is not Jesus of Nazareth! There is a less than 1% chance that it is he!

I cannot believe the irresponsibility that the filmmakers have evidenced. I just cannot. Not only have they misspecified the model in a way that favors their analysis. They have also misinterpreted their misspecified model in a way that favors their analysis.

I just cannot believe anybody would publish something so foolishly. I think – when all is said and done – this group risks their careers. Jim Cameron especially.

If you are going to take a shot a Christianity in such a high-profile way, you need to make sure, minimally, that the gun is pointed a it and not you!

Daniel said...

Thank you once again for all the work you've put into addressing the "bad math" that went into this documentary. I again have a problem with one thing that you mention at the end of your post. Out of all the people who have something to fear from this house of cards collapsing, why "Jim Cameron especially"? He's the only non-academic involved! He can go back to Hollywood and blame it all on those darn Christian conservatives. Other people involved with this debacle can only hope that that excuse flies...

M.W.Grondin said...

I'm no fan of this Jesus tomb stuff, but every time I read the claim that the disciples didn't refer to him as 'son of Joseph', I keep thinking of Jn 1:45, where Philip does just that (and after he'd been "called", BTW). Since that's an obvious counter-example to your general claim, shouldn't you at least mention it within your argument, if only to dispose of it?

Iason said...

Two comments, one a question and one a response/correction (to a person named "query").

First the question. It's now being noted that the inscription of "Mariamenou Mara" likely refers either to one woman by two names ("Mary" and "Martha") or refers to two people who occupied the same ossuary (Mary and Martha). Now the Cameron project is suggesting that this is Mary Magdalene, on the basis of the Acts of Philip. This is one important locus for the claim that Mariamene is Mary Magdalene. Dr. Witherington gives good reasons for thinking that Mariamene here is not Mary Magdalene, however. That's worth noting. But what's also worth noting is what follows in the Acts of Philip after Mariamne is mentioned (emphasis added): "And MARIAMNE his sister (it was she that made ready the bread and salt at the breaking of bread, but MARTHA was she that ministered to the multitudes and laboured much) seeing it, went to Jesus . . . " Isn't this of interest? (This comes very close to the question "query" asked, but is not quite the same question). Could it be that this tomb is interesting for another reason entirely, namely that it is possibly the tomb of the Mariamene and Martha (and perhaps their relatives) mentioned in the Acts of Philip?

Now my second related comment, which is intended as a response/correction to "query" (who, as I mentioned, came close to asking this very question). He/she goes on to ask: "If Mara is short for Martha, doesn't that actually support their thesis? Wasn't it Mary sister of Martha who, in that Gnostic text, is said to be Jesus' 'companion,' which some take to mean spouse, and is believed by some scholars to be the same person as Mary Magdalene? It seems surprising that they didn't argue that your version is true, and Mary and Martha are sisters buried together, and say that such bolsters their case given all the other name similarities. Responses?" The response is as follows. There are mistakes here. It is NOT "Mary sister of Martha who, in that Gnostic text, is said to be Jesus' 'companion.'" "Query" is here confusing two different Gnostic texts, the ACTS of Philip and the GOSPEL of Philip. In the ACTS of Philip, Mary (Mariamene) is the sister of Martha, but (as noted above and by Dr. Witherington in his post) THIS Mary (Mariamene) is not Mary Magdalene. Also, in THAT Gnostic text, THIS Mary, the sister of Martha, is NOT referred to as the companion of Jesus. It is in the OTHER Gnostic text, the GOSPEL of Philip, that Mary (and here it is Mary Magdalene, a different Mary, i.e., NOT Mariamene) is referred to as the companion of Jesus. So there is no reference to Mariamene, the sister of Martha, as the companion of Jesus, and there is no inference from Mariamene to Mary Magdalene, who is called the companion of Jesus in an entirely different text from the Acts of Philip which mentions Mariamene and Martha. This can't support the theory in the way that "query" suggests.

A third comment (so I lied about two). There is absolutely no indication in the Acts of Philip that Mariamene and Martha are in any way related to THE Jesus of Nazareth. It seems strange that Philip would not mention such a fact in the context, if indeed it were a fact... So, since he didn't, it's reasonable to assume that they were not related. Thus, if it IS the case that Mariamene and Martha here are linked to the Mariamene and Martha in the Acts of Philip (which might be a long shot anyway), then this is actually some prima facie reason to think that the Jesus in the tomb with them, if he is supposed to be married to Mariamene as is being claimed, is a different Jesus (which is quite plausible given the commonality of the name) from Jesus of Nazareth. So ultimately this works against the Cameron et al. theory.

Iason said...

In case my above second comment (the response to "query") was a bit inarticulate, a summary:

In the Acts of Philip, there is Mariamene, who is apparently (though not explicitly called) a sister of one named Martha (and of Philip). This Mariamene is NOT referred to as a 'companion' of Jesus in that text, OR in the Gospel of Philip (she is not mentioned in that text, so far as I can tell), or in any other text that I'm aware of. There is also good reason to think that she is not Mary Magdalene.

In the Gospel of Philip, Mary Magdalene is called a 'companion' of Jesus. But no Martha is mentioned in that text, and Mary Magdalene is not called "Mariamene" there. There is in fact no indication that Mariamene (from the ACTS of Philip, related to Martha) is Mary Magdalene (from the GOSPEL of Philip). And, again, there is good reason to think not.

Query said...


Thank you kindly for your enlightening reply.

Since Cameron and Co. have already made the leap from Mariamene in the Acts of Philip to Mary Magdalene, "companion" of Jesus in the Gospel of Philip, it would seem that Mara translated as Martha does help their case after all. Their argument would go something like this:

"Mariamene appears in the Acts of Philip as the sister of Martha. Since it appears that our Mariamne here is buried with another woman named Martha (as Mara is short for Martha), it is highly unlikely that it isn't the Mary and Martha from the Acts of Philip. [Then they go through a bunch of dubious statistics.] And, as Professor Whatshisorhername has clearly shown, Mariamene in the Acts of Philip is, in fact, Mary Magdalene. And since we know from the Gospel of Philip that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' spouse, that explains what she is doing in that tomb and why she has no matrilineal blood relationship to Jesus. [Repeat dubious statistics.]"

I don't see how that argument begs the question any more or depends on any other dubious sources than the one they actually made.

Cull said...

Can anyone tell me, why *ANYTHING* in the Acts of Philip, a supposedly 4th century document with copies no earlier than the 14th century, would be somehow considered more authoritative than the synoptic Gospels that stated Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven?

If you're talking about Christian source material, did *ANY* of the early church fathers (ECFs) ever quote from the Acts of Philip? I mean, the ECFs quoted the NT so often that you can re-compose all of it except for 11 verses. The early church knew what was authoritative, and 2000 years later, we're somehow confused?

So the NT can be correct about the existence of Jesus, it it can't be correct about the other details, so then other non-canonical books are consulted? I find the lack of consistency particularly disturbing.

SuzEQCitizen said...

nyredeemed asked:
Can anyone tell me, why *ANYTHING* in the Acts of Philip, a supposedly 4th century document with copies no earlier than the 14th century, would be somehow considered more authoritative than the synoptic Gospels that stated Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven?

That question has been bouncing around in my mind as well.

Of course Jay's brilliance with statistics have about boggled my brain anyway...

M.W.Grondin said...

Jesus is never called ‘son of Joseph’ by anyone who knew him intimately in the NT--- not by his family members, and not by his disciples.

Why should he be? His family would have called him by his first name, and his disciples wouldn't even have used that - they would instead have used some honorific title. This is an extremely weak point in your argument, and prima facie contradicted by Jn 1:45, about which you say nothing:

Nathanael found Philip and told him, "We have found he of whom Moses in the Law and the prophets wrote - Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph!"

At this point, Philip (who has just been called to be a disciple) and Nathanael (who will be a disciple) know him as son of Joseph. It will do no good to claim that later, when they came to know him more intimately, they knew him to be a mamzer. That would be to beg the question. Or rather, it would reveal your true argument, which is apparently this:

Jesus was a mamzer. Therefore, his family would not have inscribed 'son of Joseph' on his ossuary, had there been one.

M.W.Grondin said...

Sorry, the quotation should read that Philip found Nathanael.

Chris Tilling said...

Hi Ben,
It will be of interest to your readers that Richard Bauckham has written a fascinating guest post on the 'Jesus family Tomb' on my blog (Chrisendom) here. I look forward to reading the feedback.

Marcia said...

Thank you for your excellent writing on this topic.

DocMichael said...

If you've not seen it, NRO has a funny take on this matter:

Kendall said...

Can anyone verify that Amos Kloner estimated that the tomb contained 35 bodies. (Antiquot,Jerusalem, Vol. 29, pp. 22)
this was at:

SELBLOG said...

JESUS WAS A WOMEN - No this is not a joke

Virgin Mary was virgin so she could not have received Y chromosome. If
there was no Y chromosome, the child born would have to be XX- that is
female. A male child needs XY chromosome. So DNA conclusion proves that Jesus was a female. I know people here will scorn at me but I have only taken a fact from Bible and applied modern, irrefutable knowledge so have the makers of 'Family tomb of Jesus'.

Get my point? The fact, ladies and gentlemen, is that just like Dan Brown novels, Jesus Family tomb etc, Bible is also a hyped up novel and nothing else.

God is not a He or She, God is the person who supports an orphan, God is the person who pulls out a drowning man, God is the fireman who pulls people out of bombed debris. God is your parents who toil hard to provide you food, shelter laptops and ipod. GOD is A STATE OF EMOTION CALLED EMPATHY, God is affection. GOD IS LOVE FOR FELLOW HUMANS- NOTHING ELSE.

I urge religious institution not to divide people over caste ,creed, believers/non-believers, catholic/ protestants. Go and find a better job AND YOU so called scientists-stop digging out empty boxes. See how you can be useful to the humanity at large. Let humans be humans


CrossWise said...

Quoting Sister Rowena Hullfire "...St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in the battle! St. Athanasius, pray for us. St. Polycarp, pray for us. St. Justin Martyr, pray for us. St. Ignatius of Antioch, pray for us. St. Iraneus of Lyons, pray for us..."

While this former Roman Catholic Brother doubts any of those saints will answer your "prayer requests", this humble saint certainly will. [wink]
Very good post by the way.


Baconeater said...

My theory is that Paul invented the Jesus story, and his story was added to and further embellished using many myths and beliefs at the time. In fact, Jesus' extended family may have been invented after someone saw the names on these tombs.
There was a lot of time for the story to change before the NT was actually written. And this tomb could be the first evidence that Paul's story was loosely based on a historical figure as no contemporary evidence that Jesus was real actually exists.

Ray said...

A little insight

All of this seams to be a cover up of this discovery; I am appalled to the closed mindedness of you people for trying to discredit the significance of such a find.
Religion closes the eyes of the faithful and blinds them of the truth. If this really is the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth then it should be proven through forensics and restored to the state it was found and if possible the bones put back.
If it is Jesus tomb it should be undisturbed or shared with the world not hidden or kept from it.
I would like to see it reopened and thoroughly examined, the tomb and all its artifacts complete with DNA testing carbon dating and have it all made public
The Bible stats that no flesh may enter the kingdom of God so it would stand to reason that Jesus body would be found here on earth instead of discrediting this find we should be trying to prove it s authenticity first before we judge it.
Furthermore the Bible only gives us a small portion of Jesus life and his teachings
He as did the rest of us have a life aside from what the bible tells us about him (He was a man just like the rest of us men) who are we to say that he had no family Marry was only a Virgin in birth of Jesus not after the fact that he was borne, he had brothers and sisters if you are all to blind to realize this as truth then you hade better read your bible not just go to church and sleep.

Dedalus said...

It is very complicated to discuss something seriously; people oftenly (more oftenly than they like to admit) have their preconceptions and stick to it firmly. This "Jesus tomb" is probably a story made to sell or promote their makers or something like, but it may be also a good opportunity to open a debate on faith and history and things alike. What really do we know about Jesus (or Buda or whoever)? Just what tradition says - ie, what somebody wrote or said. For many people, such testimonies are enough. But they seem to forget that testimonies are not facts which can be tested: you accept them or not.
The arguments of the movie can be weak, deadly wrong and so on. But the show up of forums where one can debate the movie it is a good thing. What many people must notice it is that usually people do not discuss such subjects and, therefore, they do not confront their beliefs with reality. Sincerely: does someone who wrote here know (really know) how it is the afterlife? Or how it is the face of Jesus? Or if he was or not really married? Can we really trust the gospels as historical unbiased sources? Can we trust in any historical source?
Anyway, I learnt a lot with all I've seen and read in these days and I must thank the filmmakers (and the bloggers) for this. From this I will build my opinion, hoping that this way maybe I'll be a little more wiser. I hope also that other people may also benefit of so many discussions and that this could make the world a better place to live...

Baconeater said...

"My theory is that Paul invented the Jesus story, and his story was added to and further embellished using many myths and beliefs at the time."

Too bad there's not a shred of evidence to support your theory.
There is no evidence that contradicts my theory.

"There was a lot of time for the story to change before the NT was actually written."

Yeah, a whole 20 or 30 years. Plenty of time for those in the know to die off.
You should check and see when the NT was actually written. It was a lot longer than that.

"And this tomb could be the first evidence that Paul's story was loosely based on a historical figure as no contemporary evidence that Jesus was real actually exists."

Except, that is, for the Epistles of Paul and the four Gospels
Paul just admits to having a dream. The Gospels were written way "after the fact." The Gospels are not historical, and Paul speaks of an allegorical Jesus, and it is hard to authenticate if even Paul existed, but I believe he did.

Rose e Du said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rose e Du said...

Greetings everyone,

I was educated has a Christian, however I can't understand why some people just can't take that something like this is possible.. altough I'm not saying I actually believe it, I say that there's in fact a possibility that this could be true. Furthermore.. why can't Jesus be one of "us"? Are people so blind folded to believe so deeply in the writtings? I think we have to be open minded.. After all so many times theories have proven to be wrong.. (earth's round.. not flat, etc, etc) I definitelly agree with Matthew when he asks if we ever played the telephone game.. What makes people so sure the Bible or the writtings are ABSOLUTELY right? I sure don't think so, nonetheless that doesn't make me stop believing in God.

Best regards,


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Ken said...

For what it's worth, I wrote on this issue when the documentary first came out.


lailanie said...

message for all anti_Christ:
after all these stuffs against the LORD JESUS, have you ever think how is HE feeling on you???

Mike (Princeton, NJ) said...

To the discerning observer, criticism of the documentary `The Lost Tomb of Jesus’ has proven one thing if nothing else about its critics - a profound absence of intellectual honesty and objective thought, underscored by an immutable pathologic aversion to empirically based scientific inquiry in an effort to peddle as documentable historical fact, long held personal beliefs, institutional biases, religious and political agendas.

The fact that an `expert’ may have and eloquently articulate an opinion in front of a camera renders, neither them objective, nor their opinions authoritatively accurate.

Fraud is revealed in what the perpetrator seeks to obscure from the intended target in order to achieve a net gain at the expense of their victims. Render impermeable the mind of those who seek and are otherwise inclined to accept and be guided by truth and a victim you shall find.

Post documentary debate has largely been monopolized by a circus of religious ideologues with a financial and political stake in its outcome. Tactics employed by Israeli authorities regarding the confiscation and destruction of ancient ruins and `reburial’ of non-Jewish remains under the auspices of adhering to `strict Orthodox Jewish Law,’ have proven profoundly embarrassing to the Israeli Government, an institution not known for its sensitivity, either to bad press resultant from inappropriate behavior, or well founded criticism from the international community.

A significant subtext to the program - A naive public is lead to believe that the burial customs of those who passed 2,000 years ago were somehow `deficient’ and so inconsistent with `strict Orthodox Jewish Law,’ that they warranted the disturbance of their graves, some of which included non-Jews (early Christians), removal of their remains, retention and stacking in government warehouses of the ossuaries inwhich they had been buried, confiscation of the land within which they were entombed, building apartment high rises over top of them, and the reburial of those remains (absent the ossuaries inwhich their familes and loved ones placed them) in anonymous graves and pits at undisclosed locations, if not destruction and disposal of them, is extraordinarily arrogant, a crime against history, amounting to grave robbing and plunder for profit. What civilized society on the planet permits such activities, let alone engages in it as an official government sanctioned enterprise? This, in large measure, was a primary source of discomfort to Ted Koppel, who is Jewish, about what was revealed in the documentary.

For Christian archeologists and theologians, the documentary presents a profound dilemma. The universally recognized law - possession is 9/10ths of the law, applies to Israel also. Criticism of official Israeli government policy regarding the exhumation, reburial, and/or destruction of ancient tombs, confiscation human remains, warehousing, and sale of ossuaries, destruction of ancient tombs and significant Christian archaeology sites, confiscation of land above and directly adjacent to them for sake of profit and the benefit of real estate developers with an itch to make a buck, are awkward issues subject to aggressive official censorship. Criticism of officially sanctioned Israeli Government policy, albeit warranted here, limits access to the country, prohibition from access to archaeologically significant sites, denial and revocation of licenses for engaging in archaeological activities, accelerated government confiscation and plundering of site contents, and construction of private and public commercial enterprises in an effort to impede, if not prevent access to them.

In the case of the program at issue, Ted Koppel’s selection of `experts’ and `citics’ of the documentary achieved the network’s overarching objective - increased viewership and ratings through controversy by any means necessary. If, by the top of the concluding hour, the network can leave the audience wanting more, they and its advertisers will return for more and, by any objective measure, they were succeessful.

In the end it wasn’t merely the reputation of Israel which lay in ruin. Ted Koppel, heretofore assumed to be and accepted for decades as the consummate, objective, fact finding inquisitor, revealed three (3) things - what was clearly a religious and politically motivated bias against the producer of the documentary and what was uncovered in it, an extraordinarily ineptitude in his selection of rebuttal `experts,’ and that there remains something to be said for a timely retirement.

After ABC pulled the plug on him, and/or he left the building for the last time of his own free will, he had accrued more than ample empirical evidence regarding sequels. They are compared against, more often diminish, and seldom enhance the original, essentially a second act for a one act play. This Discovery program was one too many sequels for Ted. He became the story within the story. The corrosive effect if his performance invited an overwhelmingly negative public impression of his work, not merely in the future, but through this misstep, the past.

/s/ mike (Princeton, NJ)